Contemplations on the Topic of Hate

One of the things that occasionally makes me feel like I might not ever make a good political pundit is that I gravitate more towards hard questions that make me think than I do towards statements of uncategorical truth. That makes it difficult to write hard biting commentary.

I’ll give you an example of the kind of thing that grabs me. It comes from David Livingstone Smith and is titled, “Fighting hate is a losing battle.” He starts out by talking about how hate is in the news these days, especially after Charlottesville, and suggests that the conventional wisdom is that we need to fight it—or go to war with it.

True to the tough-guy self-image deep in the American psyche, many seem to believe that the best way to deal with anything that you don’t like is to beat the stuffing out of it. So, if you don’t like “hate,” then you should “fight” it.

Of course, he’s going to tell us why that doesn’t work. The first reason is because it is a “category mistake,” which is “the error of treating one kind of thing as though it’s quite a different kind of thing.” Hate is not the kind of thing that can be fought.

I think he has a point. Hate is an emotion. I don’t suspect that we can fight it anymore than we can fight sadness. It simply is.

Smith next asks us to contemplate the question of whether or not hatred is always a bad thing.

I’m a Jew who hates Nazis. Does this make me a bad person? Does it place me on the same side of the moral divide as a Nazi who hates Jews because we are both “haters”? Should foot soldiers in the war against hate also battle against my hatred of Nazism, or is my hatred of Nazism a good, acceptable, or even morally obligatory kind of hate?

He suggests that there is good hate and bad hate, depending on what it is that is being hated. He says the same thing is true of love.

The white supremacists that tromped through Charlottesville brandishing swastika flags, KKK insignia, and assault rifles while chanting, “Jews will not replace us!” were people who loved their “whiteness,” feared its replacement, and had a protective attitude towards what they took to be their “heritage.”…

The uncomfortable truth is that sentiments like love, honor, terror, and moral righteousness have immensely greater power to move human beings to commit appalling acts of violence than hate does.

If you find yourself prodded by what Smith has to say, but not completely sure that you agree with it all, welcome to the club. Let it sit there for a while and feel the cognitive dissonance that it creates. That is exactly how we grow and develop as human beings. It might not be as satisfying as reading an author who writes with vigor about something you already believe to be true. There are times when that is helpful, but it doesn’t push us out of our comfort zone and open up the possibility of creative thinking.

As you ponder what Smith wrote about hate, here are a couple of pieces of wisdom on the subject from men who had a lot more experience with hate than I do. First of all, here’s Elie Wiesel:

The opposite of love is not hate, it’s indifference. The opposite of art is not ugliness, it’s indifference. The opposite of faith is not heresy, it’s indifference. And the opposite of life is not death, it’s indifference.

That one also raises a lot of questions for me. But there is truly something dehumanizing about indifference that is the precursor to acts that we tend to ascribe to hate.

Secondly, here is what Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. had to say on the subject:

Hate begets hate; violence begets violence; toughness begets a greater toughness. We must meet the forces of hate with the power of love… 

“The ultimate weakness of violence is that it is a descending spiral begetting the very thing it seeks to destroy, instead of diminishing evil, it multiplies it. Through violence you may murder the liar, but you cannot murder the lie, nor establish the truth. Through violence you may murder the hater, but you do not murder hate. In fact, violence merely increases hate.

Returning violence for violence multiplies violence, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.

When it comes to things like evil and hatred, I often ponder that line about how “darkness cannot drive out darkness, only light can do that.” Is that really true? I don’t know about you, but life has never seemed that clear cut to me.

At the same time, I think that there is something innately wise about the words of Leonard Cohen in his song, “Anthem.”

Nancy LeTourneau

Nancy LeTourneau is a contributing writer for the Washington Monthly.